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Stephen Lawrence, Whose Music Enriched ‘Sesame Avenue,’ Dies at 82

Stephen Lawrence, who supplied a soundtrack of types for numerous childhoods because the music director for the landmark “Free to Be … You and Me” album and tv particular and as a longtime composer for “Sesame Avenue,” died on Dec. 30 at a medical middle in Belleville, N.J. He was 82.

His spouse, Cathy (Merritt) Lawrence, stated the trigger was a number of organ failure.

Mr. Lawrence had a present for catchy tunes and music constructions that may attraction to younger minds.

“Probably the most efficient gadgets, and for kids some of the essential, is repetition,” he wrote in “How to Compose Music for Children,” an essay on his weblog. “Did you write a primary line you want? Why not repeat it?”

The essay went on to indicate how composers from Beethoven to John Lennon had achieved simply that, and Mr. Lawrence employed the gadget usually on “Sesame Avenue” classics like “Fuzzy and Blue (and Orange),” a jaunty 1981 quantity with lyrics by David Axelrod.

Certainly one of Mr. Lawrence’s most charming tunes was additionally considered one of his first for the kids’s market: the title monitor of “Free to Be … You and Me,” the star-studded 1972 album and guide conceived by Marlo Thomas. The file, filled with songs and tales celebrating tolerance and busting gender stereotypes, turned a permanent hit and was just lately chosen for inclusion within the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry of culturally important works.

Mr. Lawrence, working with the lyricist Bruce Hart, was given the duty of arising with the opening quantity. A memorable folks melody recorded by the New Seekers, it begins with a banjo, an instrument not usually heard within the pop and rock music of that point.

“Banjo was good for the introduction of this music,” Mr. Lawrence stated on the radio program “Soundcheck” in an interview marking the fortieth anniversary of the album. “It’s form of timeless. It says pleasure. It says non-sophistication — though a number of the album is kind of subtle. It says: ‘Hear up. That is an uncommon instrument you don’t hear daily. It’s going to arrange a music you’re going to love.’”

Ms. Thomas had recruited a formidable roster of stars to carry out on the file. Along with writing the music for a number of of the songs, Mr. Lawrence, because the challenge’s music director, had the duty of overseeing recording classes. That meant working with a unusual array of performers, a few of them skilled singers and a few of them, like Mel Brooks and the soccer participant Rosey Grier, not.

Mr. Lawrence was a relative unknown on the time. Recording Diana Ross singing “When We Develop Up” (one other “Free to Be” music for which he wrote the music) at Motown’s studios in Los Angeles supplied him with a pinch-myself second.

“I arrived at Motown Studios and thought in regards to the many well-known recording artists who had recorded there, none extra well-known than Diana Ross,” he wrote on his weblog. “I noticed that your complete ‘Free to Be’ challenge was lifting my profession to new heights.”

The album was a runaway finest vendor, and Mr. Lawrence went on to compose greater than 300 songs for “Sesame Avenue.” Starting in 1989, he was nominated repeatedly, together with the present’s different composers and lyricists, for Daytime Emmy Awards for music course and composition. He gained thrice.

Mr. Lawrence didn’t work solely on youngsters’s materials. He composed the music for the 1973 baseball drama “Bang the Drum Slowly,” the 1976 horror film “Alice, Candy Alice” and different movies, and collaborated on a number of stage musicals.

Ms. Thomas, although, stated he was the proper selection to achieve younger audiences.

“‘Free to Be … You and Me’ was first and at all times a youngsters’s challenge,” she stated by electronic mail, “so it required a composer and musical director who may create songs that sparked the imaginations and touched the hearts of ladies and boys in every single place. Stephen was that particular person. I beloved him and I beloved working with him.”

Stephen James Lawrence was born on Sept. 5, 1939, in Manhattan. His father, Allan, was head of a producing firm, and his mom, Helen (Kupfer) Lawrence, was a homemaker.

He grew up in Nice Neck, on Lengthy Island. He began taking piano classes at 5, and at 17 he gained a New York radio station’s jazz piano contest; the prize was classes with the pianist Mary Lou Williams.

Whereas majoring in music at Hofstra Faculty (now Hofstra College), the place he graduated in 1961, he composed music for pupil exhibits and different entertainments. One was a musical, “The Delicate Touch”; the guide and lyrics have been by a fellow pupil, Francis Ford Coppola.

Mr. Lawrence got here to the “Free to Be” challenge by Mr. Hart, with whom he had written some songs and whose spouse, Carole Hart, was producing the challenge with Ms. Thomas. The 2 girls requested Mr. Hart and Mr. Lawrence to give you a music that may introduce the album and convey what it was about. It was Mr. Hart who got here up with the phrase “Free to be you and me” and constructed that concept right into a full music lyric, which he introduced to Mr. Lawrence.

“As typically occurs,” Mr. Lawrence recalled in his weblog, “I acquired an thought instantly and accomplished the music in someday.”

The label, Bell Information, advised the group to count on to promote about 15,000 copies. As a substitute gross sales soared previous the million mark. A 1974 tv model, with Mr. Lawrence as music director, added to the phenomenon.

The Harts (he died in 2006, she in 2018) and Mr. Lawrence labored collectively on different tasks, together with the 1979 tv film “Sooner or Later,” which yielded the Rex Smith hit “You Take My Breath Away,” written by Mr. Hart and Mr. Lawrence.

Mr. Lawrence started writing for “Sesame Avenue” within the early Nineteen Eighties and continued to take action for years. The job gave him an opportunity to take pleasure in a wide assortment of musical styles. Certainly one of his earliest compositions for the present was “Kermit’s Minstrel Music” (1981, lyrics by Mr. Axelrod), which known as to thoughts Renaissance-era tunes. Ms. Lawrence stated considered one of her favorites was “Gina’s Dream” (lyrics by Jon Stone), through which Mr. Lawrence did a reasonably good job of imitating Puccini.

Mr. Lawrence lived in Bloomfield, N.J. His marriage to Christine Jones led to divorce in 2000. Along with his spouse, he’s survived by a daughter from his first marriage, Hannah Jones Anderson; Ms. Lawrence’s sons, Sam and Nicholas Kline; and a grandson.

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